The latest issue of Another Man celebrates the London man in all his many permutations, from youthful musical innovator King Krule who stars on the cover, to the Black Skulls: a pair of motorbike obsessives who turned their passion into both a fashion brand and the most genial motorbike gang in Hackney. Here, alongside a film shot by filmmakers Joshua Osborne and Michael Mayren, we present Ben Perdue's piece on the Black Skulls from Another Man, where they discuss how their fanbase developed and the impact of the London climate on their club.
DISCLAIMER: any resemblance between the Black Skulls and a serious skull-stomping biker gang is purely coincidental. Granted, the members of this East London-based brand all look the part but what brings them together is a simple love of bikes, not bar brawls.
In fact, 35-year-old founders Drew Esqulant and Reino Lehtonen-Riley only started the Black Skulls because people who saw them working on their machines assumed they must be in a gang. “So we came up with a name that was a bit tongue-in-cheek, for a laugh,” says Lehtonen-Riley. “Then as things evolved and a scene grew around it, we made products people could buy to keep it going.” Today the double garage in Hackney they call home has become a hub for London’s snowballing biker community, as much a hangout as it is a workshop for building custom bikes, and what started out as a T-shirt label now produces authentic, high-end leather jackets.
“The amount of people we’ve met while sitting here with the shutters up is unbelievable,” says Esqulant. “Right now it feels like things are peaking, but the scene in London will always go up and down.” The popularity of the Black Skulls owes a lot to their open shutter policy, especially important given the wider scene’s intimidating image; not everyone would be comfortable approaching a large group of men with motorbikes, and on any Saturday there can be up to 30 sat outside, but the Black Skulls’ inclusive approach means anyone feels welcome. “This is a destination that bikers from all over the world come to check out, which is flattering and weird,” says Lehtonen-Riley. “There must be better things happening in the world, yet we always have someone from Japan or America visiting our Wilton Way garage. Although it could also have a lot to do with our reputation for getting people fucked up here.”
If their motorbikes are a labour of love, then so are their jackets, and both have that custom-built appeal. Plus decades of riding in racing leathers means no one is better qualified to design them. “We extend the sleeve zips, put more room in the elbows and make them longer than most jackets,” explains Esqulant, “because nothing’s more annoying than the wind whistling down your bum crack when you’re riding down the road.” Engineering takes precedence over shiny trims, as it should, and detail is king – right down to the buckles that they buy, de-chrome and have dipped black at three local suppliers.
"The Black Skulls garage is a destination that bikers from all over the world come to check out, which is flattering and weird”— Reino Lehtonen-Riley
While Esqulant focuses on the Black Skulls fulltime, Lehtonen-Riley still has a day job in Soho running the family business, legendary heavy metal jewellers The Great Frog – it’s where he learnt, from an early age, the true value of handcrafted excellence. “Often you don’t know how many hours of work go into something small but you can tell when it’s been done just right,” he says. “You have to figure these little things out and it’s like that with our jackets.” Expect a similar attention to detail when it comes to the Black Skulls workwear and helmets due next season.
But isn’t London a tough place for a motorcycle club? The weather is terrible, the roads are congested and full of potholes or speed bumps, space is
at a premium, and things left outside get stolen, vandalised or rusty. “But because of the climate you don’t have so many poseurs, as it takes more commitment,” explains Lehtonen-Riley. “I guess you have a hardcore element here because it’s not as accessible.” Trying to find spares is also a challenge but often inspires the more interesting custom builds, as London’s bikers learn how to get creative with a lathe, drill and welding torch. The exact same DIY aesthetic, and lack of any pretence, is what makes the Black Skulls so unique. On annual road trips or at specialist events, this motley crew arrive on anything from tiny Honda C90s to flashy 200mph sports bikes – whatever takes their fancy on the day.
“And there’s nothing better than when a big group of us ride out. It’s fucking awesome, that’s what it’s all about,” says Esqulant. “Right up until the moment your head gasket blows and your exhaust pipe falls off.”
Another Man S/S14 is out now. Click here to buy.